UPDATE FEBRUARY 1, 2018: As of January 25, Annata is now open seven nights a week — and it's offering a four-course menu on Mondays for the very reasonable price of just $50.
While everyone's been wining and dining in Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Newtown, over the bridge Crows Nest has been sitting on one of Sydney's best-kept foodie secrets. This one-year-old restaurant and wine bar, Annata, has been earning a serious rep about town for an inventive menu that's a step ahead of its humble neighbourhood surrounds.
Unlike many of the other long, narrow spaces on Willoughby Road, this one doesn't sell hand soaps or have a half-price leg waxing special. Instead, you'll find a brick-walled wine cave serving seasonally-driven food and cocktails, a snazzy jazzy soundtrack and a crowd of happy, somewhat tipsy patrons.
In the vein of fine dining restaurants everywhere, Annata offers up a short one-page menu of the ingredients only, so it's up to you to imagine exactly what you'll get. But don't worry — you're in good hands. Head chef Jimmy Richardson's sterling references at The Bridge Room, Café Paci and Ume (now Bar Ume) check out.
We start the meal with a serve of Coffin Bay oysters with pickled black fungus ($4 each). We're grateful that Jimmy introduced them to each other because they pair so well — the stocky umami flavour of the fungus melds smoothly with the sweet creamy oysters.
The second dish surprises us too. This time it's blood plums with yoghurt ($15) — something one would usually expect to find with a side of granola. Here it's a salad of sorts. The plums are guillotined to delicate slivers, sprinkled with salt, pepper and roasted black sesame then finished with a splash of dill oil to really cement its savoury leaning.
Plums are currently in season so it comes as no surprise to see them pop up again in a dish of Thirlmere duck breast ($39), this time they're pureed and doused with fennel milk and sweet topaque (a fortified wine). The duck is masterfully cooked and pink throughout — all that's missing is that juicy strap of white wobbly fat. Don't pretend you don't love it too.
Drinks are certainly not forgotten, especially considering the venue is owned and managed by Christian Blair, an ex-bartender from the legendary Eau de Vie. Cocktails range from a simple fruit cobbler — the flavour changes daily ($18) — to some seriously sophisticated sips, such as the Hive Mind ($24), made with burnt butter-infused Elijah Craig (12-year-old Kentucky whiskey), leatherwood honey and Xocolatl bitters (cacao, cinnamon, spice). The wine list boasts an impressive list of 70-odd drops, starring boutique wineries from here and abroad.
As a final note, make sure you come prepared to pay more than you usually would for dinner in the area; the smaller servings can make it all too easy to rack up a bill if you order up big. This could take you by surprise — especially for a restaurant that sits across the road from an Ogalo — but, like I said, this is certainly no ordinary local.